Friday, May 13, 2016

Lace from Crossmaglen

My schedule has been jam packed, but at least Christine and I had a few hours last week to meet with Rosie Bell, and hear her stories about the lace-makers of Cullaville, some of whom are still making lace today, well past their 80s. These are women who have made lace since their early childhood, and who still refer to the activity of lace-making as an itch in the hand. 
Rosie & Christine - assessing the lace.

My interest in the lace is because of Susan Donaldson, an entrepreneurial woman in the late 1800s, and a lace agent for about 100-150 women in Creggan, Co. Armagh, lace makers who lived on farms around Crossmaglen and Cullaville. Many of them had started making lace as children.

Susan Elizabeth DONALDSON née CORR of Urker House (abt 1847-1920). Wife of John DONALDSON (?-1876). She was in her 20's when she started her business - or else perhaps took it over from her mother-in-law.
Widowed at an early age, with a young daughter to support, Susan ran her business from her home at Urker House. She also set up a lace making school (following in the path of others). The local lace, known as Carrickmacross lace, won international awards, although according to the oral history, some of their best work was buried with various Popes as part of their burial regalia. Like so much of women's art, their work was never attributed to them. There are no names of individual women attached to any of these pieces.

I will add more details to this post after I get home and can access my other files. I suspect that not all of the pieces that I photographed are samples of Carrickmacross lace. Some may be from Limerick. Hopefully, Rosie will set me straight. Carrickmacross lace is distinctive because of the hoops on the outer edge. Some include the motifs of the rose, the thistle, and the shamrock. Much of this lace was handed down from Mary Menary (1872-1846), who in turn had inherited it from her mother, Mary Jackson (1844-1921) of Urker Lodge. On a sunny day, the texture is visible:

Although the photos beneath were taken on an overcast day, at least the patterns are visible.  I didn't photograph all the pieces - Christine was right. I never stay long enough! Regardless, all of these pieces are at least more than 100 years old, and I am sure that Rosie can tell us more:

A shawl on the dining room table at Gilford Castle.


  1. How beautiful the work is, and fascinating. I've always loved the look of lace, and wondered how it was done. Not surprising how once again, the women responsible have never been documented, and given the acknowledgment they deserved.

  2. I like the 'itch in the hand'. When my eldest sees a painting off kilter she says 'it's scratching my eyes'. Some of these patterns are unbelievably complex, especially the oblong. Do you know how many hours would go into a typical piece?

  3. I'm reminded of the lacemakers in Belgium, where we spent six months studying French just after we got married. Their work was unbelievably complex and beautiful.